Sunday, January 9, 2011

“Luck Be a Lady Tonight!!” Which is the better luck-based game show: "Treasure Hunt" or "Deal or No Deal"?

“Deal or no deal?” was the question on everyone’s mind when the game show of the same name took the nation by storm for the four years it aired on NBC.  But the concept of Deal or No Deal wasn't conceived overnight.  This show was loosely based on a classic 50s game show called Treasure Hunt (later changed to The New Treasure Hunt in 1974) with a similar format.  But the question is "Which game show was better: Deal or No Deal or its predecessor Treasure Hunt"?  This week, I’m going to break down and analyze each show to determine which the better show is.  I will also rate each one of the “six factors” (Show Flow, Gameplay, etc.) from a scale of 1 up to 10 as if I was doing a review of each show.  Before I begin these reviews, I would like to point out that when I refer to Deal or No Deal, I am referring to the U.S. version of the program.  So let's get to it!

Factor #1: Gameplay
While both shows are played similarly, Deal or No Deal stretches the length of the original Treasure Hunt gameplay into a one-hour production.  The rules to each game were simple.

Geoff Edwards and the five prize models on
The New Treasure Hunt 
On Treasure Hunt, two games were played in each episode. Since all three versions of this show (the 1950’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s versions) were played in the same fashion, I am going to explain the 70’s version of this show. In each game, ten women in the studio audience were given small gift boxes.  Inside three of the ten boxes was a number 1, 2, or 3.  The three women who opened their boxes and found one of the numbers inside won the chance to come on the stage. The three contestants then had a choice between choosing one of three jack-in-a-boxes, one of which had a “surprise” inside (such as flowers or a clown doll).  The contestant who had the number 1 inside their small gift box chose first, and the same would go for those who had the numbers 2 and 3.  The contestant who found the surprise inside her box won the chance to go a “treasure hunt”.  The winning contestant then had to pick one of 30 “surprise packages” (66 on the 80’s version).  Each box contained either a luxurious prize package, (such as a Rolls Royce, a pair of Jaguar convertibles, or a Mediterranean cruise) a check ranging from $5,000-$14,000, a “klunk” (a booby prize), or, as Edwards would describe it at the beginning of each show, “TV’s greatest treasure”, the grand prize of $25,000.  Attached to each box was a cash award envelope containing dollar amounts ranging from $500 up to $2,500 cash.  If the contestant turned down the cash, she then won whatever was inside the box.  If a prize or klunk was what the contestant won, the prize was not shown to the contestant immediately.  Instead, Edwards would engage the contestants in a comedic skit to not only mislead the contestant to what she actually won, but to also build the tension and suspense.  If the $25,000 was what the contestant won, Edwards would usually stall for a couple of minutes before revealing the grand prize check.  Emile Autouri, a bonded security agent, would reveal which box he hid the check inside at the end of each show.

Howie Mandel with Deal or No Deal's
first millionaire Jessica Robinson  
Switching to Deal or No Deal’s gameplay, Deal or No Deal is a game where impeccable timing and a whole lot of luck could lead to high rewards.  The main objective of Deal or No Deal is to pick the one briefcase, out of the 26 that are presented, that contains the top prize of $1,000,000.  After the contestant has selected their case, the contestant has to choose each of the other 25 cases one at a time to reveal their dollar amounts, and whatever was in those cases was not the money amount that was in the contestant’s case.  Periodically throughout the show, “the Banker”, who overlooks the entire stage from his own press box room located above the studio audience and is often depicted as the “villain” of the show, tries to force the contestant to end the game early by the contestant making a “deal” with the banker, trading his or her case for the banker’s offer.  The banker’s offer is usually calculated according to how many cases are left in the game, the total count of high money amounts and low money amounts left in the gameplay, and the odds of the contestant choosing a high/low money case in the next round of eliminating cases should the contestant reject the deal.  If the contestant accepted the banker’s deal, the game ended and the contestant won however much the offer was worth. If the contestant played the game all the way through without accepting any of the deals, the contestant won whatever was in their case.

Although both games are played the same way, Treasure Hunt takes the win in the “Gameplay” category.  The only reason why Treasure Hunt made the format worked the way the producers did was because of the use of the skits before the prize reveals.  If you are reading the rules to the 70’s and 80’s version of Treasure Hunt for the first time, you might think that the use of the skits on a game show like this is a recipe for disaster.  But with the right host, as Edwards was, this show did a terrific job incorporating the skits into the middle of each game, adding the perfect amount of tension, comedy, and unpredictability to what the contestant might win in each game. The skits used in each Treasure Hunt game makes the show worth watching.  Deal or No Deal, however, does not have the same unpredictability as Treasure Hunt had in every game. 

Gameplay Scores
Treasure Hunt= 9         Deal or No Deal= 3

The set of the 80's version of Treasure Hunt
Factor #2: Set Design

I don’t have a lot to say about the set design for each show.  The set on both Treasure Hunt and Deal or No Deal progressively got better with every new series/season.  With this in mind, I’m going to declare a tie between these two shows in this category. 

Set Design Scores
Treasure Hunt= 9        Deal or No Deal= 9

Factor #3: Show Flow
Treasure Hunt is a 30-minute program, while Deal or No Deal is an hour-long program.  Since both Treasure Hunt and Deal or No Deal are simple game shows to play, it would make more sense that each show ran under the half-hour format.  Treasure Hunt made great use of this time to play two games per show and limiting each skit in both games to a certain time limit.  Deal or No Deal on the other hand dragged out their gameplay, mainly because of the contestants constantly asking their family members for help either for deciding to take the deal or not or choosing which briefcase to eliminate.  I thought, and still think to this day, that the additional help from the family members was not necessary for this show, especially with a gameplay as simple as Deal or No Deal’s.  It was often annoying waiting 5 to 7 minutes for a contestant to make up their mind before resuming their game. The actual time it takes to play one game of Deal or No Deal is not that long, especially not an hour’s worth. 

In my opinion, Deal or No Deal would have worked better as a 30-minute program, which they eventually switched to in the 2008 syndicated series.  Because of this, Treasure Hunt is the clear cut winner in this category for its perfect use of their show time. 

Show Flow Scores
Treasure Hunt= 10          Deal or No Deal= 3

Factor #4: Play-Along Factor
Pick a case, any case.....
Treasure Hunt and Deal or No Deal have almost no play-along factor.  The only thing that the home viewer can do at while watching both of these shows is to guess which box/briefcase the grand prize is in.  However, in the 50’s version of Treasure Hunt, two contestants faced off against each other in a qualifying trivia round, being awarded $10 ($100 in the primetime version) for every correct answer.  The player with the most money at the end of the question round won the chance to go on a “treasure hunt”.  The trivia round enabled the viewers to “play-along” with the contestants by answering the same questions they do.  This gives Treasure Hunt a slight edge over Deal or No Deal in this category.

Play-Along Factor Scores
Treasure Hunt= 4          Deal or No Deal= 2

Factor #5: Potential Viewer Ratings
Geoff Edwards trying to make the show's
bonded security agent Emile Autouri laugh.
F.Y.I: Autouri has never cracked a smile
throughout the entire series.
The 50’s version of Treasure Hunt originally aired on ABC (daytime) and NBC (primetime).  The 70’s and 80’s version of this show switched to syndicated television.  Deal or No Deal went through a similar process, airing weeknights on NBC when the show first started in 2005, then switching to syndication in 2008.  While Treasure Hunt pulled decent ratings for the show to last two years on the NBC primetime version and 5 years on the syndicated 70’s/80’s version, Deal or No Deal easily ruled over the other networks in their time slot when the show was on NBC. Deal or No Deal takes the win in this category because of the show’s perfect time slot: weeknights at 8pm or 9pm on NBC. Not only that, but the reruns of those shows ran on CNBC on the weekends, allowing the viewers to catch up on some of the episodes aired during the previous week.  I believe the reason why Treasure Hunt did not last as long as it did on NBC was due to the decrease of popularity of all game shows at that time because of all of the game show scandal investigations.

Potential Viewer Ratings Scores
Treasure Hunt= 7           Deal or No Deal= 10

Factor #6: Host
The producers of both Treasure Hunt and Deal or No Deal did a fantastic job hiring the prefect host for these two shows. Geoff Edwards, once known for the game show Jackpot! was the host of the syndicated version of Treasure Hunt, and Howie Mandel, from the hospital drama St. Elsewhere, was the host of Deal or No Deal.  As the hosts, both of these actors took control of their shows and made it their own.  Choosing the better of the two hosts was a slightly tough decision, but the winner of this category goes to Geoff Edwards with Treasure Hunt.  As a former actor, Edwards did not have a problem with doing any of the skits on the show or improvising some of those skits.  Here’s an example of Edwards improvising a skit in an episode of the 80’s version of Treasure Hunt:

Edwards had fun comically tormenting the contestants and putting each contestant on an “emotional roller coaster” before revealing what they had won. Howie Mandel was also great fit for Deal or No Deal. He had the perfect enthusiasm and energy for the show, especially with his trademark "double fist bump". 

Host Scores
Treasure Hunt= 10        Deal or No Deal= 9

And the winner is........ Treasure Hunt!!!

Final Score:
Treasure Hunt=  8.2
Deal or No Deal= 6.0

Treasure Hunt was a comedic game show that was always fun to watch and will be remembered as one of producer Chuck Barris' more memorable game shows. The U.S. version of Deal or No Deal on the other hand put on too much of a production for a simple game as it was, especially with their addition of multiple ridiculous "ratings booster" gimmicks (Million Dollar Mission, a contestant playing against a monkey, etc.) towards the end of the series.

Interesting facts:
- Although the odds were greater for a contestant to win the grand prize on Deal or No Deal (3.9%) than on Treasure Hunt (50's/70's version- 3.3%, 80's version- 1.6%), Treasure Hunt still managed to pull more grand prize winners (>9) than on Deal or No Deal (2). 

- Producer Chuck Barris decided to only have women contestants on Treasure Hunt because he was concerned that male contestants might become angered by the show's crazy skits (which usually involved multiple false prize reveals) and physically attack the host or other staffers. 

- GSN voted Treasure Hunt as #49 on their list of the "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time", while Deal or No Deal was voted #26 on the list.

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